What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are chemical compounds which block the activity of free radicals in the body. Free radicals are the natural results of the body’s natural processes and have the potential to damage cells.
Our bodies naturally make certain antioxidants, such as melatonin and glutathione, but others can only be obtained through correct diet.
Antioxidant compounds are also used to preserve, colour and flavour foods, particularly processed foods, drinks and are even used in beauty products.
Our demand for antioxidants in recent times has increased due to the increased toxic burden from the environment and stressful lifestyles.
Most common ones you might have heard of
Include vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, vitamin A and zinc, but there are many others. Plants are rich in different phytonutrients, some of which are mentioned below which act as antioxidants with varying health benefits pertaining to specific health systems.
Where to find antioxidants in food
My focus here is not on specific foods but on what the phytonutrients in different coloured foods might mean with the underlying message to eat a rainbow and vary your antioxidant sources.
Green fruits and vegetables contain high levels of many different phytochemicals including catechins, folates, isoflavones, phenols, phytosterols and chlorophyll.
These have a wide-range of health-giving properties, including promoting correct hormone balance by supporting healthy liver detoxification, brain health, cardiovascular health and liver and gall bladder health.
Brassica vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage support healthy liver detoxification and hormone balance while celery is naturally diuretic and may help to lower blood pressure.
Seaweed and other algaes are very high in minerals and compounds with cancer-fighting and other immunomodulating properties. Green tea contains high levels of epigallocatechin gallate, a potent cancer-fighting compound while asparagus contains natural glutathione, a natural liver detoxifier and liver protector.
Red fruits and vegetables such as cherries, plums, kidney beans, plums and apples contain numerous phytonutrients, including anthocyanidins, carotenoids, ellagitannins, flavones, proanthocyanins, lycopene and quecertin with cancer-fighting, cell protective and anti-inflammatory properties.
They also promote healthy cardiovascular and immune health. Cherry contains natural melatonin, which helps to regulate circadian rhythm and promote a healthy sleep pattern.
Orange fruits and vegetables contain bioflavonoids, carotenoids such as alpha and beta-carotene, curcumonoids, naringenin with anti-cancer, antibacterial, immune health, reproductive, skin and general cell health include sweet potato, turmeric, quash, apricots, peppers, citrus fruits and carrots.
If you juice, always try and include a little piece of fresh turmeric (available in most local grocery shops) Carotenes become far more bioavailable cooked than raw so it’s always better to steam your carrots.
Yellow fruits and vegetables such as peppers, corn, corn contain lutein, rutin and zeaxanthin but the highest levels of lutein and zeaxanthin are found in egg yolk.
White members of the allium family including garlic and onions contain antimicrobials which promote liver and gastrointestinal health. Garlic also promotes healthy blood pressure. Ginger contains gingerol and is a potent anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial.
Tan foods such as flaxseeds contain lignans which promote a healthy hormone balance and have cancer-fighitng properties.
Blue and purple fruits and vegetables such as grapes, berries and red cabbage contain compounds such as anthocyanidins, hydroxystilbenes, procyanidins and resveratrol, which are renowned for their anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, cardioprotective, cognoprotective properties.
It’s important to look at your diet and try and include at least seven different vegetable portions and two fruit portions daily in your diet to try and ensure an antioxidant intake which will provide protection against chronic disease.
Also look at lifestyle factors and ensure smoking and excessive alcohol intake are tempered to lessen the burden on your body.